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Senate debates 2-year $13 billion state budget

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate was deep into debate Thursday over a two-year $13 billion state budget that Democrats praised as responsible and responsive to pressing problems and Republicans criticized as an unsustainable affront to taxpayers.
Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, ticked off a list of concerns both sides have agreed must be addressed, such as the opioid crisis, child protective services and public safety.
“Bang! We’re on it!” he thundered after listing each issue.
“We continue to do the kinds of things we want for our communities, what we want for our families, what we want for our friends and neighbors,” said D’Allesandro, of Manchester. “This budget reflects your values.”
The proposal being debated Thursday spends about the same amount in state general funds — $5.5 billion — as the budget passed by the House in April but differs in several key areas. While both significantly increase education funding, in part by restoring so-called “stabilization grants,” the House budget would spend about $60 million more, paid for by extending the tax on capital gains.
The Senate version would eliminate that tax and send more unrestricted money back to towns and cities in the form of revenue sharing, $40 million compared to the House’s $12.5 million.
Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, emphasized the proposal’s investments in women’s health care, services to help struggling parents and programs that allow the elderly and people with disabilities live independently.
But a provision Rosenwald championed about Medicaid expansion drew vehement objection from Republicans. The budget would allow state funds to be used, if necessary, to partially pay for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Democrats argue that the provision is necessary to protect the health care of roughly 50,000 people, while Republicans argued it violates the original bipartisan agreement to extend the coverage to more low-income adults.
“We built a document, we did it in good faith, and we said we weren’t going to use general funds,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem. He angrily pushed back against the notion that Republicans were putting the program in jeopardy, noting that thy have agreed to increase reimbursement rates paid to providers.
“To suggest that this senator doesn’t give a damn is absolutely wrong. What I give a damn about is building an honest budget that doesn’t change the deal we had and explains to the public exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said claims that 51,000 people will lose coverage without the provision amounted to fear mongering and urged his colleagues to work together to make changes, if necessary, in the future.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, protested that Republicans pushed through new work requirements for Medicaid recipients late in the last budget cycle.
“We certainly argued against it, but we didn’t come to the Senate floor and accuse people of bad faith,” he said. “You can suggest anyone here is engaging in bad faith. Everyone here cares.”
Republicans also opposed the inclusion of a paid family medical program, which would be paid for via payroll deductions and which they say amounts to an income tax. They also object to Democrats’ plan to do away with business tax cuts that were scheduled to take place.
“I’m concerned today that promises being made in this budget are not sustainable,” Morse said.